Australia’s copper broadband infrastructure: The reality


What, you are likely asking yourself about now, am I looking at? It’s pretty awful, isn’t it?

Crazy strings of spaghetti wire going everywhere, laid along a series of what looks like iron clamps, with some odd-coloured Ethernet cables running along the side and loosely collected together with plastic ties. A bit of wire on a brick wall, with crazy bits coming off everywhere at every angle, with hand-written notes attempting to show what does what and what’s supposed to go in where.

Does any of this look familiar? It should. The pictures you are seeing are just everyday shots taken of Australia’s current copper telecommunications infrastructure (the end user part of it, that connects to your house). This is the network which provides most Australians with broadband and fixed-line telephony. A bit shocking, isn’t it? Doesn’t look terribly reliable, does it?

What I want to do with this article is encourage people to send any similar shots you have of awful sections of Australia’s copper telecommunications infrastructure in so we can publish a huge collection. Broken cables, cables poking out, patch panels with wires everywhere, street-side cabinets open to the elements, we want them all. Send them to or post links in the comments under this article, and in a week or so we’ll publish a featured selection of the worst. Also let me know where you found these examples so we can caption them appropriately.

The aim of the exercise is to have a decent stab at showing graphically what Australia’s current fixed telecommunications infrastructure is really like in some spots — beyond the hype about the NBN, let’s get down and dirty with the copper and see what it looks like on the ground. If we’re going to talk about next-generation telecommunications networks, let’s take a look at how last century’s platform is faring in 2012, especially as we talk about keeping it active for future fibre to the node rollouts.

Image credit: rodB on Twitter (here and here)


  1. this is how my phoneline was repaired after it was cut through with a digger by a telstra contractor.

    it happened two houses up the street from me.

    this is what it looked like before they fixed it.

    notice in both photos that the twisted pair just runs straight in the ground. no conduit.

    this is in the perth subrub of morley, from december 2010.

  2. I don’t have a photo on me right now, but I live in a house that has almost a sub-exchange in it- no kidding. It provides lines to 3 factories on our block. And it’s also connected to an old PBX, although even Telstra, who’ve literally had to tramp into my house to connect EXTERNAL lines, don’t know how. They also say it’s highly illegal, but such is the state of the copper CAN…..

  3. One of your better ideas Renai :) unfortunately Delimiter caters to technically literate and these photos need to be seen by the general public en mass. Full spread on page three of the Australian should suffice, how’s your advertising budget this month?


    • lol somehow I don’t think it will stretch to full page ads in The Australian, nor would I spend money with News Ltd if I could help it ;)

      • Shame about that Renai, I was looking forward to the “Editorial” stating the views of advertisers do not represent the papers position and the 489,726 photos shown represented isolated examples used to push a political agenda. :P

          • You’d have to teach Alan what a cable actually is first. Otherwise he’ll start ranting about lasers and digital wi-fis again.

  4. I have a feeling this thread will eventually resemble a thread I saw once online of the worst-organised Ethernet patch panels of all time in datacentres. I’ve seen a few bad ones over the years!

  5. You’re asking for shots of awful infrastructure you are hardly showing what current fixed infrastructure is really like.

    As far as material for NBN fan boys goes – it will be very popular – but it won’t be truthful or representative.

    • “you are hardly showing what current fixed infrastructure is really like”

      Mate the patch panel out the front of my house looks exactly like the one shown above. I’ll post a photo later on. You can’t imagine the look the Telstra tech gave it last time he visited. He was like … “oh right — you have one of *those*”.

      • I don’t dispute there is bad cabling in many places in the copper network.

        I was at a customer site two weeks ago where I saw one entire 16a PDU of IEC cables supported by a single mm fibre patch to a SAN (no seriously, the tension was all on a single port in a single HBA). OMFGWTFBBQHAX optical fibre is dodgy and needs to be replaced!!!

        I could take a photo of that and upload it somewhere – but would that prove that SANs and fibre are dodgy and need to be replaced? No. It would prove that a lazy arsehat did the install at that site. It says nothing about the technology, cost benefit, use, and so on.

        Similarly, posting a photo of a wire wrap terminal block from the 70s prior to the invention of the Krone terminal adds no meaningful information to the debate over the value of the NBN. I could post a picture of a Krone terminal block from the past decade or two with neat cabling – would that prove that the NBN is redundant because I found neat and well maintained copper? No.

        Horrendous and poorly maintained cabling is possible with two wire copper, Ethernet, optical fibre and just about every other cabling technology out there.

        Far from being ‘beyond the hyper about the NBN’ – your proposed set of photos is nothing but hype about the NBN. I am tired of glib BS In the press about how the copper network is about to fail and we have to spend all this coin before it is too late – and you’re some sort of retard if you don’t ‘get it’. I’d rather see some good investigative reporting that sees some pointy questions asked of NBN co re coverage, cost of the project, and when they are going to finish etc.

        • “I’d rather see some good investigative reporting that sees some pointy questions asked of NBN co re coverage, cost of the project, and when they are going to finish etc.”

          Answers to these questions are available on NBNco. website.

          • Yeah thanks. You’re just missing the LMGTFY link.

            The only ‘concrete’ (and I use that term VERY loosely) detail is the three year plan and even that excludes centres of commerce like the Brisbane CBD. ‘work commences within three years’. What does that mean? The properties in the plan will be done? No.

            Charitably, there are 750 business days in three years. That’s 4666 premises connected PER DAY (nevermind associated head works etc) to just squeak in on the deadline. Isn’t that about how many premises that have been connected since 2009 or whenever it was first announced?

            Why not save a lot of time and money and call bullshit on this early? Why are people even entertaining that they can roll out fibre to a suburb 10 x the size of spring hill where I am at the moment in 8 hrs. WTF. Seriously.

            I’d find a progress bar on the rollout (actual vs promised) + more useful than dodgy cabling photos attempting to be some sort of investigative brainwave about the state of telecommunications in Australia.

          • >Why are people even entertaining that they can roll out fibre to a suburb 10 x the size of spring hill where I am at the moment in 8 hrs. WTF. Seriously.

            They don’t pool all their work force into one suburb to connect it in a day.

            If one team can connect a street with (say) 30 houses in a day, then 200 such teams can do 6000 houses in a day, spread out over the whole country.

          • +1 Jean W.

            Unfortunately, even if NBNCo said, all of Australia will be done by tomorrow night, there would still be those who for whatever their reasoning or agenda would whinge, why not today!

          • Of course they won’t have a single gang working – I am illustrating the enormous promise that has been made though.

            Team doing 30 houses in a day? My god – what crack are you smoking? You’re like the rest of the advocate who have never picked up a calculator.

            30 per day, assuming an 8 hour shift with no breaks = 16 minutes per dwelling to trench in fibre, install conduit, patch, fit off/terminate, install the NTU, plug in their existing gear and do some sort of hand over to the owner. No allowance made for a pie and coke, owners who are not there, hitting concrete and other stuff.

            When we pulled fibre into Gold Coast Convention Centre it took:

            1. Four people most of a day to blow the fibre through pre-existing 90mm conduit and fit off a single switch in the MDF with no other configuration not connecting any other devices. All install was through existing easily serviced cable trays and so on.
            2. Took a guy in a fibre van a couple of hours to do the pit work on the street.

            You should order fibre some time and watch it get installed – it is a lot of work. Even suggesting 30 per day by a team shows you have no idea what you’re talking about.

            For a resi installation, I reckon a pair of guys would be looking at doing 2-3 premises per day AT BEST with no head works.

            So that would be what? 2000 teams with fibre termination gear working every business day for the next 3 years … except they haven’t started yet.

            See the scale?

            I want my free fibre as much as the next guy but this plan really does not appear to have been thought through. As someone else on this thread said, it will be pink batts all over again re quality of installation.

          • Yeah but that issue was because some fuckwit decided to not oversee his apprentices while installing foil insulation.

            Thats more of a reflection on poorly-qualified tradesman than corporate teams vying for government fibre rollout contracts.

          • Even if your correct, it’s either delayed NBN from the current government or infinitely delayed NBN from the opposition. Currently I can get 1Mbps download, ~240kbps upload, ADSL. No wireless. NBN is my only hope.

        • Alright then mate, how bout you come round to my area – where we dont get ADSL then check and see if the Copper network is okay? Im sure it will be, Malcom Turnbull told me so.

      • Your copper is apparently so “sh-t”. . . yet you acknowledge on a regular basis that you’re getting 16Mbps over ADSL and manage to run Australia’s best-loved and highest traffic tech site from your home office using residential-grade ADSL without any unresolvable hitches.

        What does that tell you?: “Looks can be deceiving”. “Crappy-looking” copper can perform perfectly fine and last for decades to come. . .

        Your Honour, the Defence rests.

        • Yes. Because 16Mbps is definitely going to be adequate for decades to come.

          You do realise that 4K televisions have just started to appear and Apple is likely to release Retina Macs with super high resolution screens this year. Today’s streaming video is going to look pretty crap on it.

          • “You do realise that 4K televisions have just started to appear and Apple is likely to release Retina Macs with super high resolution screens this year. ”

            Apple are conspiring against Australian taxpayer.

        • I’ve been to quite a lot of places who cheer when they get better than 1Mb reliably. Not to mention the sites that have to rely on slightly less than useless 3G connections. And in a few instances, there has been nothing available.

          Roll on the NBN roll out – can’t come quick enough.

          • Precisely.

            The irrationality of the NBN debate never ceases to amaze me.

            Most of the complaints on online fora are from people who either have no access to ADSL, or are experiencing unusually low connection speeds (e.g. < 1mbps). So they justifiably want to be brought up to par with everyone else. (What is "par"? — according to iiNet, in a Senate submission, their average customer connection speed is 12mbps. This is hardly indicative of a decrepit network that is on the verge of collapse.)

            l have yet to read a single post explaining the personal need for FTTP speeds on a residential premise, and arguing for the rationale of FTTP roll-outs on that basis.

            The Coalition's NBN plan is clearly the most rational approach to solving the gripes and problems that are being raised, by prioritising the immediate resolution of broadband blackspots. This is where you get the greatest bang for buck (i.e. going from no ADSL to having internet connectivity). Contrast this to NBNco's current, extremely wasteful efforts at overbuilding Transact's existing FTTP network in Crace, ACT (i.e. giving fibre to people who already have it).

            Indeed, the NBN can't come quick enough (for those who need it most) — and it will come quickest if the Coalition's NBN was implemented instead.

          • Ironically one percent poster… I have never read a rational reason why each house “shouldn’t receive the best connection”?

            I have heard parrot fashion opposition rhetoric, but nothing of substance…

            Well here’ is just one positive for you to ignore, scoff at, refute/refuse yo accept…

            Seems the Children’s Hospital have the best of the best… but without reciprocal technology at the “other end” it’s all in vain…

            But then, you don’t care about sick and dying kids do you, you care about dollars and political ideology…!

        • 16mb huh?? On a technology that can do ‘up to’ 24mb….but cannot because of line quality and distance. Which kinda proves the point doesn’t it?

          Never mind the fact that most people actually get 12mb and under due to line quality and distance…and people over 4 clicks from the Exchange get sub-ADSL speeds and then people over 4..6 clicks from the Exchange get bupkiss.

          The Prosecution may have rested, but the Defence just blew their case out of the water ;)

          • I am approx 4.5km of shopping bags from the exchange on a Hel$tra port & currently am connected at 6519 ds 913 us. This is average for my ADSL2+.
            Supposedly NBNCo is coming (commencing) in the next year, then watch me pay my bills at the speed of light :)

    • I thought those shots looked pretty typical of most Telstra connections I have seen. In fact they are way better than some I have seen.

    • I have to agree. Showing a handful of the most egregious examples of bad cabling is fun and amusing, and will play well to the pressures to spend $40bn in upgrades, but is not going to be representative of the average state of telecommunications in AU.

      • How about people just take shots of their own and close friends/relatives connections then? I hope they didn’t put too much cement over my girl friends telstra put that keeps flooding. It hasn’t stopped the horrible line crackle of the phone failing to ring but it might make it hard to take a photo of the floating cables.

      • How is this going to be the worst of what is in Australia ?

        This is what ordinary people on here are sending in.

      • Just as it is naive to assume every connection is like these examples, it’s just as naive to assume these are isolated issues!


  6. And that’s just before it gets to the house. On purchasing an old house, I was mystified why my adsl could barely hold a connection despite being 1km from the exchange. 10 meters of coiled telephone cable and a gaffer-taped connection to the street was why. Bet I’m not alone there.

  7. I agree with many others here. These photos are not representative of the general state of copper telecommunications in Oz. They are typical of poor and badly maintained installations (usually by the customer, NOT Telstra).

    C’mon guys, this is a bit of a cheapshot. Sure, post up up photos of dodgy racks and patching, we all like ar a laugh, but don’t pass it off like you’re trying too.

    • Well this is a dumb comment.

      Which customer is out there messing about with telephones wire ?

      Hint: NONE.

      • Hi Mike,

        These are all mainly pictures of IDFs/MDFs. Anybody can mess with these from the B side onwards (as well as the jumpering between A and B side).

        This is really all a bit silly. I have a lot of pictures of spaghetti SMOF and MMOF in DCs. Does that mean that optical fibre is a joke in this countyr and needs to be replaced?


        • i have to agree.
          there’s no point showing MDF/IDF spaghetti when the majority of that is client side.

          what we need to see is examples such as mine and the others posted above which show telstra owned and maintained infrastructure being poorly maintained.

          • Thats correct Clinton.

            The pictures shown is a total misrepresentation of the Telstra network.

            The top picture does not say where it is, it could be a customer site or even a decomissioned site. The BOTTOM picture looks like an building MDF and again it depends on whether the building comms is maintained properly or if it is still comissioned.

            The author seems to think that just because there are a few tags with Telstra logos on it, that this is representation of the entire Telstra network, nothing that there are over 4000 telephone exchanges and not one showing the insides of one.

            Even with the advent of much cost cutting and use of contractors Telstra still maintains their exchange to an international standard, which is not a requirement for other telcos and ISPs where such an audit process is not mandatory to such levels.

          • Select Committee on the NBN — S11458 — Thursday, 6 November 2008

            Hansard pg 20


            Mr Malone*—My honest opinion, having seen many other countries around the world, is that
            Telstra operates probably one of the best fixed-line networks in the world. It is very easy to bag
            them. It is very easy to knock them. In many other countries the copper networks have been built
            in disjointed areas and then pulled together somehow at the end. In this case we have a single
            national network that has been built and maintained by a very competent carrier and we have
            never had any issues with Telstra at an operational network level.

            end quote.

            * Mr Michael Malone, CEO & Founder, iiNet Pty Ltd.

            Your Honour, the Defence has no further witnesses to call.

          • Whilst Michael Malone is of course a man to be listened to… do you really think he get’s out into the burbs, down and dirty, inside actual pits, to see for himself?

          • GUY this is NOT about how the exchange is maintained, this is all about how FTTN is a MASSSIVE waste of money. The last mile in Australia is a sad mess and is failing day by day. I am an engineer who works on the last mile and i’m for ever fixing faults day by day. If FTTN is used it will be a very sad sad day for Australia

          • PLUS in addition, there is no point showing inside the Exchange, because the fight is against FTTN

        • Ah yes, either cry conspiracy theory or shut eyes and refuse to see, when all logic is exhausted.

  8. With regards to the NBN, I’ve heard experienced contractors in the fibre industry shocked at how the fibre is being laid by inexperienced contractors, who are winning work by being the lowest bidders.

    An example of one inexperienced contractor laying fibre by the side of a highway in Queensland, the trench that was dug was not to Australian Standards (the trench was less than 30CM deep). In a location that rained heavily during the wet season and in some places the fibre is buried directly under where semi trailers pull over to the side of the road for rest stops and will inadvertently sit directly over the top of fibre.

    Now tell me that the NBN isn’t heading for the same outcome as the current copper network.

    • MIKE this is NOT about how the exchange is maintained, this is all about how FTTN is a MASSSIVE waste of money. The last mile in Australia is a sad mess and is failing day by day. I am an engineer who works on the last mile and i’m for ever fixing faults day by day. If FTTN is used it will be a very sad sad day for Australia.

  9. It’s amazing that, despite all these “Current Affair-style” horror images, the existing copper network is essentially pretty reliable. It remains to be seen how robust the NBN infrastructure will be over 50+ years…

    • Depends how you define “reliable”. I define “reliable” as five nines — 99.999 percent uptime, or a few minutes per year. The copper network is VERY far from being that reliable.

        • So as a former Telstra broadband support worker… i tested thousands of copper lines.
          I heard the stories, i saw the notes.
          I read the National Unresolved Faults file…
          As someone with a passion for networking… that file still gives me the creeps & sends a shiver down my spine when i think about it.
          Theres a document at telstra with THOUSANDS of major faults (like the pictures posted above and worse, but for say… 100 peoples phone lines instead of 1)
          I looked up case numbers, thinking there was surely some reason for these things to be left hanging from fences… loose on the ground… never repaired at all… etc…

          Im afraid the reason was usually cost. Not in the budget to head back twice & dig again to bury, and hundreds of other variations.

          Copper may be good enough. But the copper being looked after by Telstra has a half life of about 12 years with their current maintenance practices.

      • I have it on fairly good authority that Telstra gets around 91% reliability (one 9) average across the nation.

        It’s not great, but then the do have to deal with natural disasters accidents and of course the sheer age of some parts of the network. There are undoubtedly areas that get 3 9’s (or have to date) but they’d be quite new.

        • That’s the thing. The difficulty with any reliability stats in the context of this story is how to weed out the damage caused maliciously, accidentally or by natural disasters (which will, of course, affect any network solution) from unreliability caused by age and dodgy repairs/maintenance.

        • Anecdotally, my Telstra landline connection is less reliable than my TPG ADSL2+ connection, despite both being run over the same copper. I don’t recall the last time the Internet dropped out (that a modem restart didn’t fix, so I’m assuming that’s CPE issue) but I did go for several days without dial tone – called Faults using VoIP. Sounds like someone just bumped my line in the exchange.

          My parent’s line would get very scratchy during/after rain, that they could never fix. (This was before ADSL, but I doubt that line would have ever supported ADSL due to it being over 5km long)

  10. I look forward to seeing a huge wall of these photos in each city showing why we need the NBN, and how this copper tech is EXTREMELY outdated and ready for an over hall. It’ll only work though if you are showing the alternative.. Have either another collage of NBN installs, or better still a physical display near a giant wall of copper wire photos.

    Make sure it’s a balanced comparison though or people will turn away from the NBN even more than they are now.

  11. I have a mate that works for Telstra, and in the last 12months he went to a different part of the country to help with flood repairs. In THAT area, the workers seemed to have a policy to fix things “just enough” to get it to work “just enough”. Imagine a 100pair joint, a high quality thing that does things like exclude moisture. Now if a particular line has a problem, you might separate out that pair and re-join it outside of the master joint, but at some point you might replace the whole joint right? No, wrong. As these guys get paid when they get called out, there is no incentive to repair a defective joint properly – just fix the individual lines as the clients complain. My mate got into trouble because he found a 100pair joint with 98 temp repairs. So, he cut out the mess, put in a brand new joint, and eliminated problems for 100 people at once. Then he gets into trouble because what he did was going to stop callouts to that pit – and not to mention those pesky 100pair joints are expensive! Craziness!!!

    • Exactly, most of the problems with the copper network are to do with improper joints, and nothing to do with the quality of the copper lines themselves.

      I’m not aware of any copper network in any major country that has been completely decommissioned. In fact, even in Japan which has the most extensive fibre build in the world, the copper network is operated side-by-side with fibre even to this day (a point that is specifically highlighted in the NBN Implementation Study).

      This is not surprising as copper does not “corrode”, nor is the copper network “falling apart”.

      • You are arguing the copper network is in good condition because it is the joints that are bad? What magic makes the joints not count?

        I think most people are arguing that the copper network is bad because of the joints, not the actual copper disolving or anything.

          • Fixing the joints of course. But what has that got to do with copper being at end of life? Fixing the joints isn’t going to make it meet future broadband needs.

          • Exactly Noddy, we can keep patching the obsolete copper, until the cows come home and pretend we are right.

            But at some stage those who can see past their own noses need to say… let’s look beyond this and do something positive for the future…!

          • I’ll give you a hint, As a copper engineer contracting to a number of ISP’s, My DAILY income will NEVER go under $700 when I work full time. And I am a soul you see value in that? I don’t mind exposing this because I’m changing industries. But exceeding $1000 in a single day may happen every few weeks

          • Copper doesn’t corrode? I’m afraid it does, it’s just relatively resistent to corrosion compared to basic metals such as iron.

  12. I’ve messaged Renai to say he’s welcome to the pictures on my site.

    I’m a little hesitant to spruik the site as it probably wont handle a massive traffic hit. Please be judicious accessing larger pics. The reason I’m posting here is that the pics posted so far, haven’t illustrated a deteriorating copper access network.

    The top picture of the distribution frame with metal rings isn’t pretty but still functional and just as reliable as one that’s jumper-routed correctly. The lower picture certainly wouldn’t be reliable but isn’t the carrier’s responsibility, it’s the building owner’s problem.

    The picture linking to a damaged 30 pair direct buried cable isn’t indicative of anything either, in my opinion. It’s a valid temporary repair until a solution is engineered, manpower scheduled, resources gathered, and someone to bill for the work is found.

    Anyway, my site is


  13. Well living now in Wongawallan Qld, is covered by ONE exchange in oxenford.

    The most congested exchange in Australia.

    Running a business from home, working with over 46 people remotely becomes extremely difficult.

    Sure we are on 8mb connection (cant do adsl2+) but you dont get anywhere near that in actual speed, it sync’s at that but due to massive congestion, at best you might be 30% of that.

    There is Telstra 4G available with a Yagi…. But the bandwidth costs are huge for any decent data.

    Our local sub exchange is not on the upgrade list and it’s an absolute joke….

    I wish NBN would come out sometime soon….. fact is we wont get it here for a very long time.

  14. For balance, maybe show images of standard infrastructure too (e.g. inside congested/normal exchanges) and also those poles out on the street / in a drain where they are working – they aren’t all like this

  15. If you are going to use photos to make some kind of point, they need to be explained (ie: fault & cause) so people can be educated.

    Random shots of poor cable management on exchange MDFs/ customer IDFs show nothing but untidiness. These don’t represent the “poor state” of the CAN.

    It looks like magilla guerilla’s site has already done the hard work for you.

  16. I once tried to report a broken earth wire on a Telstra installation – waste of time. After 1 hour plus of phone calls someone eventually noted it and said it would be dealt with. That was over two years ago and it is still in that state. Will it take the death of a technician to get something done?

  17. So many opinions by so many people who have no idea what they are talking about! So many cheap shots at Telstra! Not even the writer knows what he’s on about, he says; “The pictures you are seeing are just everyday shots taken of Australia’s current copper telecommunications infrastructure (the end user part of it, that connects to your house)” -wrong
    The first pic is inside a telstra exchange where your PSTN/ISDN/ADSL service come from. Green jumpers are ADSL, red jumpers PSTN. Left side is connected to the equipment room via the thick white internal cables that run up to the ceiling and the right hand side goes through the ducts in the floor then out into the street. Funny thing is that even though they’re messy they would work just fine.

  18. And the good news is. This is the some of the infrastructure they will run the NBN fibre through. Well, not really, they will have to fix up a lot of pits and conduit and leadins, for lots more than 36 BILLION

Comments are closed.